A landmark United Nations report issued an alarming warning on climate change, calling it a “code red for humanity.” While the situation seems dire, recent positive developments in the sustainability arena keep the hopes for a greener future alive. Read on to learn what immediate steps enterprises can take now to move the needle on sustainability goals through digital transformation.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report released last week continues to make waves across countries, governments, corporations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It touched a nerve even with those segments of the population who are rarely engaged with climate issues, a sign of rising sustainability consciousness in the zeitgeist.
While awareness toward building a sustainable future has been in the spotlight for over a decade now, it is important to understand the following reasons why the IPCC report has managed to create significant noise:
- Timing of the report: Coming just a couple of months before the critical UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this fall in Glasgow, Scotland, the new report will play a key role in the negotiations. IPCC’s previous assessment in 2013 and 2014 paved the way for the Paris climate agreement
- The warnings are clearer and direr: The confidence of the assertions made by the authors is the real strength of this new publication. The clearest of these points is humanity’s responsibility for climate change
- Visible effects: As countries continue to grapple with the pandemic, the climate impact over the past few months has significantly worsened. The dangers of climate change are no longer something far away in the future, impacting people in distant lands. It’s here and now and affecting every region and population segment across the world
- Rapid changes are needed now: Even after 197 countries signed up to the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the IPCC report claims that we won’t be able to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius this century unless immediate and sustained deep cuts in carbon take place
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…”
The situation is a reality check. However, we see positive signs that possibilities still abound for a greener, cleaner future such as:
- Concerted, profound, and immediate efforts can avert the catastrophe: Immediate deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases could stabilize rising temperatures. Scientists believe if we can cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, we can halt and possibly reverse the rise in temperatures
- The rise of the environmentally-conscious Generation Green: Gen Z and millennials are rewriting the rules of conscious investments and consumption, and taking charge of the sustainability agenda by sustainable investing and their willingness to pay more for eco-friendly products and hold institutions accountable for their actions
- The report paves the way for directing accountability: By strengthening the scientific evidence between human emissions and extreme weather, the UN report provides a new, powerful means for stakeholders everywhere to hold corporations and governments legally accountable for the climate emergency
- Evolution from checkbook philanthropy to building purpose–driven enterprises: While at the beginning of the sustainability journey, the focus largely remained on ad hoc initiatives, where now conversations have transformed into a purpose-driven movement. Businesses are not just focused on maximizing return for shareholders, but on overall stakeholder engagement to build purpose-driven enterprises
Four Steps Enterprises Can Take Now
Now that we have managed to grab the attention of all audiences, the need of the hour is to get the ball rolling. Here are some steps enterprises can take as they embark upon their sustainability journeys:
- Turn intentions into actions: Enterprises globally are pro-actively reporting sustainability. Over 90% of all S&P 500 firms do some sort of sustainability reporting, which is significantly higher than a decade ago. Supplier announcements of sustainability-specific investments have risen significantly over the last 12-15 months, highlighting the strong intent by both sides to drive environmental, social, and governance (ESG) messaging in the market (exhibit below).
However, despite having the right intentions, enterprises globally still struggle to envision a comprehensive and actionable ESG strategy that they can adopt. This is where the expanding sustainability vendor ecosystem can play an important role in bringing together the external expertise, tools, and offerings that can help enterprises succeed in their sustainability agendas.
- Set more attainable targets based on accurate predictions: As the impact of greenhouse emissions becomes clearer, it paves the way for enterprises to define quantifiable targets and measure, monitor, and report these goals to guide all decisions and truly become purpose driven. Enterprises can get decision-making guidance from the rising number of specialized data providers who are going deep into ESG areas, focusing on specific industries, lines of business, and action items
- Leverage the technology ecosystem to build, implement, and scale sustainability agendas: With their massive and expanding footprints, it’s important for enterprises to think about the different layers within the sustainability technology stack from advisory to applications, data, cloud, and infrastructure. How enterprises scale sustainability across their technology landscape can have significant downstream implications. We believe that strategic partners who can assist clients in end-to-end ideation, implementation, and scaling their sustainability programs will play central roles going forward
- Institute an operating model for sustainability: Business operations and workflows need to embed purpose elements within core business strategies and processes as organizations move up the sustainability maturity curve. This requires thinking about the critical components of sustainability through an operating model shift. Our view of this operating model encompasses key elements such as data, technology, and operations, underpinned by a robust foundation of governance and talent as presented below:
We covered some of our thinking in a recent webinar on Digital for Good: Shape Your Sustainability Journey and will continue to share our insights as we monitor the latest developments in this space. How are you planning your sustainability journey? We’d love to hear from you by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected].